(Updates number of patients testing positive for coronavirus, adds comment from spokesman)
By Andrew Hay and Deborah Bloom
SEATTLE, March 9 (Reuters) – The Seattle-area nursing home at the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak said on Monday it had no kits to test 65 employees showing symptoms of the virus that has killed at least 13 patients at the long-term care center.
The staffers, representing more than a third of the Life Care Center’s 180 employees, are out sick with symptoms resembling the coronavirus and a federal strike team of nurses and doctors is helping care for 53 patients remaining in the center.
With the Kirkland, Washington, home accounting for over half of all coronavirus deaths in the United States, and all its patients tested, it was unclear why it had not been given kits for staff even as the University of Washington offered to process tests.
“We would like more kits to test employees,” Life Care Center spokesman Tim Killian told reporters, adding he did not know why they had not been forthcoming. “We’ve been asking the various government agencies that have been supplying us with test kits.”
Twenty-six of the nursing home’s 120 patients have died since Feb. 19, with 13 of 15 autopsies carried out so far showing that the coronavirus was the cause. Of the 53 residents still in the facility, results for 31 out of 35 have so far come back positive for the coronavirus.
The outbreak has shown how quickly the coronavirus spreads through elderly residents with weak immune systems and underlying health conditions living in close quarters.
“We’ve had patients who, within an hour’s time, show no symptoms to going to acute symptoms and being transferred to the hospital,” Killian told a news conference on Sunday. “And we’ve had patients die relatively quickly under those circumstances.”
Two other nursing homes in the greater Seattle area have reported that at least two residents and one staff member have the virus.
Killian said he was not sure whether nurses who worked at Life Care Center Kirkland also worked shifts at other nursing homes in the Seattle area before the outbreak came to light over a week ago.
The University of Washington School of Medicine said on Monday it could test all Life Care staff. The lab’s current testing is running at about 500 specimens a day, but it has capacity for over 1,000 tests a day.
“We’re happy to perform testing if they can get samples and send them through the University of Washington Department of Laboratory Medicine,” said Alex Greninger, assistant director of UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratories.
He did not know why Life Care had not received kits, but said a general reason why testing was not higher was a shortage of people to pick up specimens and bring them to his university lab.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Deborah Bloom in Seattle; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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